A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good Guy And Bad Guy

Congratulations to Tony La Russa, who has achieved that rarest of feats in sports: Like Jim Brown and Sandy Koufax, he went out on top.
He's one of only two managers - the other is Sparky Anderson - to win World Series with teams in both leagues. He won more games than anybody but John McGraw and Connie Mack. (And Mack owned his team, so he couldn't be fired.)
And in his final season he skippered the Cardinals to come-from-behind wins in both the regular season and the World Series.
But just as John Madden is already becoming more famous for his video games than for his Hall of Fame careers as both a coach and a TV analyst, I think Tony will be better known someday for his work to ease the suffering of animals.
Before he and his wife Elaine founded the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF, for short), there was no adoption agency for homeless dogs and cats in Contra Costa County except the hopelessly overstretched resources of the county animal shelter. Thousands of cats and dogs who would have been euthanized because of overcrowding are alive today, thanks to them.
But equally important, by going public about his love for animals - something no one else in the sports world had dared to do - Tony made compassion cool. Nowadays it's common to see athletes like Ron Artest and Jason Taylor doing commercials for animal welfare groups. But Tony started it all a quarter-century ago..
I first met Tony 25 years ago, when he was managing the A's. He, Elaine and their daughters, Devon and Bianca, were quietly picketing a business in Walnut Creek because it was selling furs. (It was the girls' idea.)
Then a guy emerged from the store and unleashed a string of obscenities at them, even though Devon and Bianca were both under 10 at the time.
"You blankety-blanks! Take those blankety-blank signs and blankety-blank, blankety blank, blankety blank!"
Suddenly, he stopped. A look of recognition came over his face.
"Hey, you're Tony La Russa! Hey, sign this ball for me, willya?"
Nice guy that he is, Tony signed.
* * *
On the other end of the human spectrum, we have the late Robert Stroud, better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz.
If you've never been to Alcatraz, you really should go. It's absolutely fascinating.
When you arrive, the first people you'll meet will be former prisoners and former guards, all hawking copies of their memoirs.
And they all say the same thing: Contrary to the saintly old man portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the movie, Stroud was the most hated person on The Rock.
He was a brutal murderer and rapist and an avid collector of child pornography. New inmates, especially if they were young and good looking, were quickly pulled aside by an old-timer and warned to give Stroud a wide berth.
Everyone hated him, prisoners and guards alike. But Stroud didn't care. The movie made him famous, and he loved to boast, "When I die, it'll be the front page headline in every newspaper in the world!"
But God has a great sense of humor. Stroud died in his sleep late one night at age 85, and his body was discovered in bed the next day when the guards made their morning rounds.
The date: November 22, 1963.